A peek inside one of the Pro-Woman Organizations changing the Pro-Life movement

Recently I met with Elena Murdock, the Development and Marketing Manager at Options United, to talk about what her organization does. Often when we hear about the pro-life movement and our minds might go immediately to the stories we’ve heard about guilting, shaming, etc that happens to women who may be considering abortion. Pro-life feminists do not condone that kind of response.

Fortunately, Options United is working to collaborate with pro-life ministries to give them tools to best serve the women and men they encounter. They are a pro-life non-profit pregnancy helpline that supports the needs of women and men by providing free referrals to free centers and clinics.

They also have a free app called the Options United App for Life. With over 180+ centers and clinics in their network (which extends throughout California), they seek to provide resources that take into account the care, health, and safety of their callers.

I interviewed Elena about the organization to get a clearer sense of the way these needs are met.

Jessica: So, how many responders do you have and what kind of training do they receive to be prepared to deal with such sensitive and personal issues as unplanned or crisis pregnancies?

Elena: We have a team of ten Call Responders who receive a minimum of 30 hours of training before going live on the Call Center as well as continued quality control, assessments and training during their shifts.  The Management training team has over 15 years of working in pro-life ministries, centers and clinics. They focus on phone techniques that encompass not only providing critical information needed to be well informed, but also ensuring the calls are being handled in a compassionate, non judgmental and caring spirit.  The Responders are provided the opportunity to reach out to Management throughout their shifts if needed and have quarterly in person training's and reviews.

Jessica: So if a person calls the call center, how would a typical response go?

Elena: Call Responders are trained to handle any type of call and provide the opportunity for the client to go into a free referral for a consultation on their options, to go over any questions they may have and to receive lab quality testing at no cost.  The client's LMP (first day of her last menstrual cycle) is obtained to better guide the client in receiving accurate information on the options she is seeking. Responders also provide critical information on the importance of the ultrasound. This test is important to confirm how far along the client is, confirm if the pregnancy is viable, due to the risk of miscarriage and also to confirm the location of the pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy is located in the uterus, outside of the uterus, is an ectopic pregnancy.  Without an ultrasound this can go undetected and can be life threatening. A woman deserves the right to be well informed and receive critical testing. The Responder also lets the client know that a follow up call can be offered to ensure they were provided with the testing and consultation they were referred for and had a good experience at the referral.

Jessica: So if a woman were to go to a clinic that provides an abortion, how would that be different from a patient going in for another kind of surgical procedure?

Elena: A woman should be respected and trusted to make a well informed decision on any medical procedure she may be looking at.  Whether it be a surgery for a broken leg, cancer treatments or an abortion. This can only be done if she is provided with the opportunity to talk to someone about the surgery or procedures, given all the options available to her, have accurate testing that she can not only view, but have time to go over and also meet the anesthesiologist or surgeon that will be performing the surgery or procedure.  She should also be provided with the short and long term risks/effects and given the opportunity to know exactly what will happen. In comparison to what happens when a women goes into an abortion clinic vs a non pregnancy medical surgery/procedure, testimonies are clear that a majority of women going into an abortion clinic are actually not provided with options or clear and non bias information and testing.  When the ultrasound is offered, this is only used to determine by the abortion clinic the type of abortion that will take place, not an opportunity for the client to see or hear her baby because of their fear that she may change her mind. This is not trusting or respecting a women's right to choose, but guiding her to one option.

When the ultrasound is offered, this is only used to determine by the abortion clinic the type of abortion that will take place, not an opportunity for the client to see or hear her baby because of their fear that she may change her mind.

Jessica: Do you bring God or faith into it at all?

Elena: The Call Center is not faith based and the Call Responders are trained to guide callers in a non judgmental, compassionate and professional way, which does not include bringing in any type of faith or religious beliefs into the call. Our goal is to provide that foundation and support that otherwise wouldn't exist.

Jessica: Yeah, you hear a lot about pro-life clinics that have a reputation for shaming women, using religious manipulation and things like that.

Elena: Yes, that is unfortunate and is not effective in providing a woman with the time and opportunity to talk about her feelings, get her questions answered and be well informed on all her options.  We have offered trainings to Center and Clinical staff on how to guide an abortion minded client and the best techniques to use without using shame/guilt and judgment that can be detrimental for the client as well as the Pregnancy Resource Center's reputation.  

Jessica: So, you mentioned earlier that you weren’t always active in the pro-life movement before. Why not?

Elena: I was working in youth ministry and would take my teens to pray outside abortion clinics during things like the 40 Days for Life movement, and women and men would be outside shouting at people going into the clinics, calling them murderers. It was awful. I didn’t want my teens to be part of that. If I were ever in a tough situation like those women going to that clinic, I wouldn’t want to be guilted and shamed. So I wasn’t a part of the pro-life movement at the time. We would talk about pro-life stuff at youth group, and do baby bottle campaigns, where we’d collect money for pregnancy resource centers. That’s why I love Options United; we address the cause of why a woman would choose abortion.  Yes, the baby is important, and yes it’s important for the baby to be born because it’s a life, it’s a gift, but Options United focuses on the women. We’re there for them no matter what. We hope that when women go to one of our clinics, they change their mind about abortion, but even if they do go to an abortion clinic and call back and say they had the abortion, we refer them to post-abortion counseling.

We hope that when women go to one of our clinics, they change their mind about abortion, but even if they do go to an abortion clinic and call back and say they had the abortion, we refer them to post-abortion counseling.

There aren’t a lot of pro-life organizations that offer that. Many focus just on the baby being born, but they don’t give post-birth or post-abortion resources. But you can’t focus just on the baby being born. You need to create that support network. You need to address the root problems. I believe that Options United is doing that.

Jessica: What kind of language do you use when referring to the unborn or to the woman who is thinking about or has chosen abortion?

Elena: Surprisingly the abortion minded or decided woman refers to her pregnancy as a baby. There is no question what she is choosing and she will call and state clearly that "I can not have another baby, its not the best time to have this child, I already have 3 kids and I can not have another baby."  Options United speaks truthfully and uses correct terms and verbiage, so the client is not confused or mislead, so "pregnancy," "baby" and "fetus" are terms that can be used on a call. A prayer request is also sent out for every abortion minded or vulnerable women on our App for Life. The well being of the woman is of utmost importance, that is why she is guided to a safe referral for a consultation and testing.  

Jessica: What other kinds of services do you offer?

Elena: We offer referrals for STD/STI testing for men and women, referrals to maternity homes that help support mothers in getting a college education, finding a job, paying for costs of living, child care, and prenatal care, all for free.

Jessica: What do you do if someone calls from a city that is outside your network?

Elena: We own a website called Options for Pregnancy, which allows Responders to locate Resource Centers Nationwide, as well as using referral sources for International clients as well.

Jessica: Do you provide resources for women who choose not to terminate their pregnancy? Like post-birth?

Elena: Yes, recently a call came in that confirmed that a mother who had gone in for an ultrasound, decided to keep her baby, and the center threw her a baby shower. They helped her with parenting information on what to do when the baby is born. They gave her baby clothes and diapers.

There’s a great center in Northern California that has a boutique that’s free (all donations), and the parents of the baby can choose a whole wardrobe for their baby and can come back for more clothes if they need them. Diapers are expensive for new parents too, and many of our centers provide them and many more resources as needed. Parenting classes are offered as well.

Jessica: Are there any other initiatives or programs that Options United is running?

Elena: We re-launched Adoptions United through our helpline!  So we’re starting to ask in our calls if we think that the woman might be open to it, “have you ever thought about adoption?” Adoptions United is about educating women and the public about what adoption is. There are a lot of misconceptions. Right now about only 2% of women in crisis pregnancy choose adoption. Adoption rates used to be much higher, but now women choose abortion more often than adoption. The idea for Adoptions United is to help provide accessible adoption. Right now adoption costs anywhere from $40-60,000 for one child. The way we’re revolutionizing that is by working with a family attorney called Family Building, and they waive a lot of their fees, so if a woman chooses to give her child up for adoption the couple who’s adopting pays what they can afford. They might make monthly donations, but instead of that going back to Family Building, it goes back to Adoptions United to keep it going. They keep the rates based on what the family can afford and try to make adoption accessible for families who want to adopt but aren’t as wealthy.

There are hundreds of women who call our helpline every week, and when a woman is abortion-minded, we send out a prayer request for her on the App for Life, too. Our users have sent out over 2.5 million prayers and saved over 3,000 lives! This app is a virtual abortion clinic sidewalk and a great way to get involved without leaving the house.

Jessica: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our FemCatholic readers to know about you and Options United?

Elena: I’d like to share about how I ended up working for Options United. I had been self-employed living in Austin after being involved in youth ministry working for the Archdiocese of Miami. I moved back to Miami when Hurricane Irma was headed towards Florida. At the time, it was ranked a Category 5 storm; I decided to travel to stay with a friend in Sacramento. I got connected to an Executive Director of a center there who referred me to the job opening at Options United. On October 1st, the Feast Day of Therese of Lisieux, I applied and finished praying a Therese novena. Soon after, I interviewed with Thomas Rudkins, the founder of Options United, and another board member. Later that day I visited with the Carmelites where I saw roses, the ones I had asked to see upon the completion of my St. Therese novena. I realized that this was the sign I had been looking for and I accepted the position. This is my dream job, being able to work for an organization that makes an actual difference in the lives of thousands of women. God is good!

♦♦♦

It was great to learn so much about how Options United focuses their work on the needs of women. Because to be a pro-life feminist is to be pro-woman equally as much as defending the life of the unborn child. I’m grateful to know that feminist pro-life resources are out there! If you have more questions, you can learn more about them and their network of resources at http://www.optionsunited.com, appforlife.org and to support them go to bit.ly/savethebabyhumans

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Jessica Gerhardt

Jessica Gerhardt is a Catholic feminist, singer-songwriter-ukuleleist, and artist with a passion for ministering to the marginalized, skeptical, and non-conformist. Her deeper personal conversion to faith took place, ironically, while attending one of the most atheist colleges in the country, and her background gives her a balanced worldview and well-rounded spirituality. With almost a decade of experience in youth ministry, she will say that if you had told her as a teen herself that she would grow up to work in youth ministry, she would have laughed in your face. Despite her initial reservations about this calling, Jessica found that her unconventional, vulnerable, and light-hearted approach to faith sharing endeared her to teens, parents, and adult core team members alike. In 2019, having worked in full-time parish ministry for over 8 years, Jessica discerned to step down from her role as a Director of Youth Ministry to pursue a career as a freelance musician, worship leader, artist, and speaker. Jessica has released her music on all platforms, performed on tour across the country, and has continued to serve in a number of ministry capacities.

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